Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Grandpa’s Garage

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Memories of other times, Photo by Bob Trube (c) 2017.

There were several summers where my dad was commuting between Youngstown and Baltimore, and it was a help to my mom for me to spend part of the summer with my grandpa and grandma Trube. Recently, we were at an antique mall and saw the scene in the photo, and it brought memories flooding back of one of my favorite things at my grandparents.

My grandpa’s garage was not only the place where he sheltered one of his Chevys, but it was also a fascinating museum of odds and ends. Yes there were oil cans and tobacco cans like the picture. There garden and lawn tools, a workbench, and that faint smell of gas and oil and grease.  And pinned or hanging on the walls were all sorts of memorabilia from all the places he and my grandmother had traveled to. Soap from a motel. A placemat from a restaurant, a matchbook from another. A tourist brochure from Knott’s Berry Farm. A program from a baseball game. A fold-out map from a gas station. There were old license plates from different vehicles he’d owned. Sometimes, I’d just go in there and ask him about one object after another, fascinated with the interesting life he’d led.

When he got tired of answering my questions, he’d find a tennis ball, and we throw the ball back and forth in the driveway. I had coke bottle glasses and not the greatest eye-hand coordination and over those times, I got better, even while I imagined myself as my pitching hero, Sandy Koufax.

At other times, he would back up his Chevy Impala out of the garage, and we would wash the car together. Mostly, he let me wash the wheels and scrub the white wall tires and scrub the chrome while he washed and polished the body. Then we’d stand back together and he would say something like, “looks like new.” He loved his cars and loved to drive. I went on my first real trips with him, to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates at Forbes Field, and, one summer, to Gettysburg.

Usually when we were done, we were thirsty. I think my grandpa probably had a beer while my grandmother served up some of her ice cold homemade lemonade. Whatever we had sure hit the spot.

Those were wonderful summers, too few to be sure before first my grandmother, then my grandfather passed. It’s funny how memory works, how a display of old stuff in an antique store brings memories of over fifty years ago flooding back. My grandfather’s garage was a window into his life, and a place of companionship where I got to know my father’s father. In one sense, it was nothing special, yet it meant the world. Grandpa’s garage.

Review: The Gatekeepers

the gatekeepers

The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, Chris Whipple. New York: Crown, 2017.

Summary: A study of the White House Chiefs of Staff, from the Nixon through Obama administrations, and how critical the effective execution of this role is to an effective presidency.

During the final weeks of the Bush (43) administration, an unprecedented meeting took place in the office of Josh Bolten, Bush’s last Chief of Staff. Eleven of the thirteen living former Chiefs showed up (absent were James Baker and Erskine Bowles). People like Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Leon Panetta, Howard Baker, and Andy Card came together with incoming Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel to share the benefit of their experience.

Chris Whipple uses the narrative of this meeting as a starting point of a study of the critical role the Chief of Staff plays that marks a Presidency as effective or not, as able to skirt dangerous pitfalls, or tumble into them. His description and quotes of Leon Panetta from this meeting captures the critical essence of the book’s thesis:

“Leon Panetta was probably the most popular person in the room. The son of Italian immigrants, jovial and outgoing, he was equally at home on his walnut farm in Monterey, California, and in the corridors of the West Wing. But as Bill Clinton’s second chief–replacing McLarty–Panetta had wielded an iron fist inside a velvet glove. When he arrived, Clinton’s presidency was on the ropes, his ambitious agenda threatened by fights over gays in the military, the Whitewater scandal, and other distractions.  The damage was self-inflicted, caused by Clinton’s indiscipline and sloppy staff work. Panetta stepped in and brought discipline and focus to the White House–enabling Clinton to regain his traction and go on to win a second term. Now it was Panetta’s turn to tutor Obama’s incoming chief: ‘Always, always be straight and honest with the president of the United States,’ he said. ‘Always tell him what he may not want to hear–because frankly, a lot of people in the White House will always tell the President what he wants to hear’ ” (p. 7).

Whipple paints a portrait of effective chiefs as those who combine candor, focus, organizational discipline, the confidence of their president, emotional intelligence, and a tireless work ethic. Too friendly with the president, and they often end up shielding him from essential truths that can bring down a presidency. Too indisciplined or administratively unskilled, and they squander the opportunities of leadership. Too harsh, and they alienate the people who they need to work with to enact a president’s vision. Most of all, they are skillful gatekeepers, making sure those who need to see the president do, while protecting the president’s energies and focus and time to think, and from powerful individuals who would unduly influence a president outside established executive branch processes.

The study begins with H.R. Haldeman, who in fact shaped the staff system that every effective chief has practiced. It was lapses in Haldeman’s discipline, allowing Erhlichman and the plumbers free reign, as well as his unwillingness to tell Nixon the hard truth about Watergate at the start, that brought down his presidency. Strong staff leadership by Rumsfeld and Cheney enabled Ford to nearly defeat Jimmy Carter, despite the tarnish of Watergate and the Nixon pardon. Carter’s decision to be his own chief of staff for the first years of his presidency, and the influence of Jordan and Powell that reinforced the indiscipline that resulted weakened his presidency. Only bringing in Jack Watson, the disciplined yet sociable ex-Marine, established some order, but too little, too late. James Baker was probably key to the presidency of Ronald Reagan, as well as recovery momentum in the later Bush (41) presidency. Baker brought all the skills discussed to provide a president inexperienced internationally with the counsel needed to shrewdly confront the Soviet threat. Later, Ken Duberstein was the chief who encouraged Reagan to retain the most famous words (against State Department advice) for which Reagan is remembered when he said at the Brandenburg Gate, “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Mack McLarty was Clinton’s first chief, and as a close friend of Clinton, presided over chaos, that was only reversed when he was replaced by Panetta. In the Bush (43) presidency, the likable Andy Card was no match for Bush’s Vice President Dick Cheney. It was obvious that Bush didn’t place the same confidence in him as in Cheney, which Whipple connects to the failures of in the decision to invade Iraq, over the reservations of Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose reputation was tarnished as victory gave way to chaos and a prolonged and costly occupation. Again, after Rahm Emmanuel left to run for mayor of Chicago, Bill Daly illustrated the pitfalls of a weak chief, in contrast to Denis McDonough, who helped Obama keep his political promises through executive order when faced with a recalcitrant Congress.

The book also underscores how critical it is that presidents choose strong chiefs they trust with the requisite skills and qualities of character. Whipple observes that this may be especially important with Donald Trump, as an outsider with limited political experience. It is an interesting question whether Reince Priebus enjoys the president’s confidence and is able to exercise the gate-keeping and organizational disciplines necessary to an effective presidency. If Whipple is right, it seems to me that one of the most important lessons President Trump can learn is getting the right person in this position and then being willing to listen to that person.

Before reading Whipple’s account, I thought of the Chief of Staff as just another member of the President’s inner circle, but I hadn’t reckoned with the importance of this position in the modern presidency where economic policy vies with natural disasters, human tragedies, and international drama on a daily basis. To execute vision, to maintain focus when faced with dozens of possible priorities, to keep “teams of rivals” in harness rather than going rogue, to be both the needed sounding board, and the honest voice are critical ingredients in helping presidents be effective. It also takes a rare blend of leadership and humility. As one of the chiefs remarked, the danger of the office is to emphasize the “chief” part (as Donald Regan did), rather than the “of staff” part. Whipple’s book helps us appreciate this rare blend, and the figures who have served us well, or less well, in this role.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through Blogging for Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: God and the Faithfulness of Paul

god and faithfulness of paul

God and the Faithfulness of PaulChristoph Heilig, J. Thomas Hewitt, and Michael F. Bird, eds. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017.

Summary: A collection of papers assessing N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God by scholars from a number of fields of theological study, with a concluding response from N. T. Wright.

In 2013, N. T. Wright published his 1700 page masterwork on Pauline theology, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (hereafter PFG). Since this time, the work has spawned numerous reviews, other scholarly works, and an extended response from N. T. Wright, Paul and His Recent Interpreters, (reviewed here). What distinguishes this work, which comes to half the length of Wright’s, is that it represents assessments of scholars who are specialists in a number of the fields upon which Wright draws in his work, from Jewish studies, to exegesis, to biblical and systematic theology. Furthermore, noting that gap between English and German scholarship on Paul, this work brings together scholars from both.

The work is broken into five parts with a concluding epilogue in which Wright responds (in a mere 57 pages!) to the contributors. An online version of the Table of Contents may be found here. I will not try to discuss all thirty essays as well as Wright’s response but rather what were for me some of the most salient essays, realizing this does not do justice to the high quality of others.

Part One consists of a single chapter by Benjamin Schliesser that situates PFG in the scholarly landscape, noting it as a negative reaction to the work of Rudolf Bultmann, and setting it alongside the works of Dunn, Schreiner, Wolter, and Schnelle. Part Two consider a number of methodological issues from hermeneutics to history in six chapters. I found the discussion of Wright’s “critical realism” and its particular association with Ian Barbour of interest, as well as the critique in a couple of the essays of Wright’s exclusive focus on Pauline material on Paul to the exclusion of Lukan material.

Part Three focuses on contextual issues ranging from the Jewish context which plays such an important part in Wright’s work, particularly in a somewhat biting essay by James Charlesworth to a more irenic discussion of Wright’s lack of engagement with middle Platonism by Gregory Sterling. Wright conceded this latter critique in his response. Two other essays concern the cultic context and a significant essay by Seyoon Kim on Paul and the Roman empire.

Part Four is the longest section of the book, comprising twelve essays, on exegetical issues. I thought Gregory Tatum got Wright wrong in his chapter on law and covenant, attributing a forensic perspective to Wright more characteristic of his opponents. James D. G. Dunn takes Wright to task for how little he addresses the New Perspective.  Peter Stuhlmacher’s chapter on Wright’s understanding of justification and redemption is particularly outstanding for its discussion and critique of the ideas of exile and the role of Abraham in PFG.  There is also an essay on apocalyptic by Jorg Frey, highly critical of Wright’s account of apocalyptic in Paul, the one essay to which Wright responds at length in the epilogue.

Part Five concerns implications. Sven Ensminger’s work on Barth and Wright seemed to be mostly about his hero, Barth, with little engagement with Wright or Paul. More positively, Frank Macchia’s essay (and several others in this volume including Levison’s in Part Four) drew attention to Paul’s Pneumatology in Wright. Edith Humphrey extends Wright’s ideas about sacramentality and the sacraments. The final essay by Schnabel concerns both mission and the discussion of whether Paul’s experience on the Damascus road was one of conversion or call.

The concluding epilogue (Part Six) is devoted to Wright’s responses to the various essays in twelve sections. For the most part, the responses are gracious, acknowledging where the writer has challenged his thought helpfully, and sometimes, where the writer has misunderstood him, notably Frey, who gets ten pages of response. Often Wright’s response is to cite the length of his work and to go into matters further as some would have him would have resulted in a much longer, and perhaps more tedious work.

There are several strengths to this work, particularly the assessments from specialists of a number of claims Wright makes in his broad sweeping work. Also, one who has been around academics in scholarly conference will recognize the cut and thrust of serious scholarly work, where the function of critique is to refine and sharpen thinking.

The work demands close reading and one benefits greatly by having a copy of PFG at hand and having read it. I have to confess that I have only read summaries and reviews and so I honestly felt I was, for the most part, listening to one side of a nuanced conversation. What this collection underscored for me was what a singular work PFG is to evoke so much rigorous discussion from so many perspectives. Now to figure out when I can give a few months of careful attention to this work!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through Edelweiss. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Chomsky, Evangelicals, and a Letter to My Senator

Noam_Chomsky,_2004

By Duncan Rawlinson [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

On Friday, July 14 Salon posted an interview between Charles Derber and Noam Chomsky under the title “Noam Chomsky: The Left Needs to ‘Find Common Ground’ with Evangelical Christians.” I found it surprising that Chomsky would propose this and perhaps reflective of a certain desperation of the Left to recapture national influence. Reading on, I found that Chomsky had in mind progressive evangelicals like Jim Wallis, who would be sympathetic to many of the same causes those on the Left embrace. That, of course, makes sense and reflects a reality not apparent to many in the media, that evangelicalism is not monolithic, and that there are many who would not align, apart from a common faith in Christ, with the putative leaders of evangelicalism–Franklin Graham, James Dobson et al. Still, I’m not sure that this is all that helpful and might only perpetuate the existing divides in our national life. I’d suggest something different that I have framed as a letter to the Democrat Senator from my state, Sherrod Brown. Here it is:

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Sherrod Brown, by United States Senate, Public Domain

Dear Senator Brown,

I’m writing to you in response to an interview with Noam Chomsky suggesting that the Left in our country reach out to evangelicals. I’m one of them, an Ohio resident, and I think that is a good idea, with a few cautions.

The first is that the worst thing, at least for the health and vibrancy of evangelicalism, is to treat us as a political block. The alliances between some white evangelicals and the Right have alienated many of our youth who are leaving our churches in record numbers. Part of this is that we are a diverse body, particularly along generational lines, as well as along lines of ethnicity. It would be great if you could bring some of our younger and older leaders together, some of our black, Latino, Asian, and white leaders together, if for no other reason than to hear each other. It would certainly help you begin to appreciate the complexity of the real evangelical movement, and not simply the one its putative leaders represent.

It would help you to understand that many of us don’t recognize the “evangelicals” being portrayed in the media and among the intelligentsia. Many of us don’t have the time or access to readily counter those perceptions. In a church like mine, what energies we have are much more devoted to running our food pantry, hosting our community garden and free clinic, collecting school supplies for a growing number of children from low income households and figuring out how to stretch what resources we have further if our country decides to further eliminate some of the safety nets on which those on the margins have relied. We know you care about such things as well.

It would help if you to understood that evangelicals have had reason to be nervous about religious liberties, and responsive to appeals to uphold these. When Bernie Sanders questions Russell Vought, a nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget on his religious views, in violation of Article VI of the Constitution and does so unchecked, it worries us. When religious student organizations on university campuses have faced de-recognition and loss of privileges simply because they wished to choose leaders who affirmed their religious beliefs, it worries us. When an order of Catholic nuns are forced to include contraceptive coverage in their health plan, violating their deeply held beliefs, it worries us. Yet concerns for First Amendment freedoms extend far beyond us and could be a place for forging common ground as we protect conscience, association, a free press, dissent as well as religious belief.

We are often written off as anti-abortion rather than recognized for the deep care we have for an ethic of life. You might press us to be more consistent with that. How concerned are we to protect the lives of those across socio-economic lines and from childhood to old age? There are a number of us who are consistently pro-life and an important conversation might be had about how to protect the lives of our children in neighborhoods riven by drug overdoses and gun violence, and our elders whose lives may be shortened and made more painful by sub-standard care.

Evangelicals from Cincinnati to Oberlin were on the forefront of nineteenth century movements to end slavery and to advance women’s suffrage. In recent times, evangelicals in this state have been on the forefront of fights against human trafficking and other social causes. At the same time, we could learn from you about some of the structural challenges under-girding some of our most pressing social problems.

We would hope you might understand more of how important marriage and family are to us. Most of us don’t want to campaign against those who see these differently, but we do think families are important places in the formation of the character, faith, education, and vocational aspirations of our children. We sometimes feel that families, and parents are marginalized in some education systems by “experts” who sometimes disparage the values we teach in our homes. Many of us don’t want to eliminate public schools, but do want a greater sense of participation as stakeholders in the education of our children.

There is much more we could discuss, but one last area I might touch on is care for our creation. Christians are often disparaged for their ideas about creation (although here as elsewhere, our views are quite diverse), but this is in fact basic to better care for our planet because we understand we will have to give an account for the care of the creation to the Creator, as well as to our children and grand-children. We differ among us about climate science, but any of us who are conscientious about our faith recognize that in our care for the earth, as elsewhere, we must answer to God.

I do hope you will reach out to evangelicals, here in Ohio and elsewhere, not to win us over as an electoral block, but for our common interest in the good of the country. It could be one more of many steps in healing our divided land, and finding ways to pursue the common good, rather than particular goods.

Your fellow citizen,

Bob

 

 

 

 

 

Christian Scholars Review

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Cover of the current issue of Christian Scholars Review

The most recent issue of the Christian Scholars Review (CSR) arrived in my mail the other day and it occurred to me that this might be a resource at least some who follow this blog might like to know of. For one thing, it may give you a clue as to where I hear about some of the books I review! The website for CSR describes its objective as follows:

“Established in 1970, Christian Scholar’s Review is a medium for communication among Christians who have been called to an academic vocation. Its primary objective is the publication of peer-reviewed scholarship and research, within and across the disciplines, that advances the integration of faith and learning and contributes to a broader and more unified understanding of the nature of creation, culture, and vocation and the responsibilities of those whom God has created. It also provides a forum for discussion of pedagogical and theoretical issues related to Christian higher education. It invites contributions from Christian scholars of all historic traditions, and from others sympathetic to the task of religiously-informed scholarship, that advance the work of Christian academic communities and enhance mutual understanding with other religious and academic communities. “

The Review does not focus on a particular academic discipline but publishes peer reviewed articles exploring how thoughtful Christian academics connect their faith to whatever it is they are studying. Some issues center around a theme, like the environment or nuclear weapons. Others have several articles on drawn on divergent themes. The current issue includes the following articles:

  • Stephen V. Monsma – What is an Evangelical? And Does It Matter? [Abstract]
  • Judith Anderson – Doers of the Word: Shakespeare, Macbeth, and the Epistle of James [Abstract]
  • Michael Kugler – The Faun Beneath the Lamppost: When Christian Scholars Talk About the Enlightenment [Abstract]

There are a steady stream of articles on Christian higher education because the editorial team and many of the contributors work in this context. In addition, you will find responses to articles in previous issues, kind of an ongoing scholarly conversation similar to many academic journals.

One of my favorite parts of the Review are the reviews! Each issue includes an extended review or two. I write very concise reviews for the blog context. It is always interesting to see reviewers do a more extended review of something I’ve covered more briefly. In the current issue (XLVI:4, Summer 2017), there is a review of Modern Art and the Life of a Culture (which I reviewed here on May 24, 2016). Like most people, I read reviews for one of two reasons, either to find books I would like to read, or to learn about books that I won’t have the time or interest to read. This is a good place to find reviews of longer works connecting faith and academic life.

Why do I subscribe to Christian Scholars Review? I work with academics and grad students in a variety of disciplines, and while I can never hope to understand any of those disciplines as well as they can, over the years I’ve come across a number of articles that helped me see how Christian faith might address important questions in their disciplines and pointed me to resources they might explore around those questions.

Who else might find this helpful? First and most obvious would be any faculty or grad student who cares about the connection of faith and their academic work. I would suggest that even the articles concerning disciplines other than their own may well suggest resources for questions they face. Also, the interdisciplinary character of this journal helps in the recovery of a sense of the unity of knowledge in the fragmented multiversity.

I don’t think academics are the only ones who will find value in this journal. Pastors, particularly those in university towns, may benefit in seeing how others connect theological principles and convictions to subjects ranging from history to engineering, from literature to education. Any thoughtful Christian who wants to think both broadly and deeply about the world might find these article length treatments more accessible than lengthy books.

You may find information about subscribing to the Review at the Subscribe/Back Issues page on their website. Students providing an ID can subscribe for $15 a year, others for $24 (four issues). You can also order back issues and the website includes an index with links to a table of contents going back to 1995.

 

Review: The Qu’ran in Context

The Qu'ran in Context

The Qu’ran in Context, Mark Robert Anderson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.

Summary: A study by a Christian theologian of the Qu’ran in its seventh century AD context exploring its teachings in relation to Christian teaching, noting both similarities and points of divergence in the hope of encouraging open and honest dialogue between adherents of these two faiths.

There is a strand of public discourse, drawing both upon the ideas of Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations, and incidents of terror, that propose that there is a war or clash between Islam and the West, or at least between elements of Islamic cultures and the west. Then there are others who pursue perhaps a quieter conversation proposing that given the clashes that have occurred and a desire to maintain and protect a pluralist society recognizing freedom of conscience and belief, that some effort needs to be made between Christians and Muslims to find common ground. The most newsworthy was a statement by a group of Muslim clerics, “A Common Word,” with responses from other major religious bodies, calling for interfaith dialogue and action based on commonly shared teachings around the love of God and neighbor.

Some who would take the former view criticize, in my view justly, some of the efforts of dialogue that minimize or altogether mute differences or take at face value assertions about Islam without careful textual study. In The Qu’ran in Context Mark Robert Anderson offers a resource grounded in a Christian perspective that seeks to read the Qu’ran both sympathetically in its seventh century AD context, delineating its teachings, noting both similarities with Christian teaching and places where these diverge. He writes:

“My goal of encouraging dialogue should need little justification from a Christian
perspective. The psalmist says how pleased God is when brothers and sisters live together peaceably and the New Testament calls us to do all we can to be at peace with everyone (Ps 133:1-3, Rom 12:18, Heb 12:14). In our global village, that demands dialogue.

But true dialogue does not deny or minimize difference. Rather, it begins with an honest acknowledgement of difference no less than similarity. Without that, we cannot be truly heard and understood. Using the term neighbor in its broadest sense, Jesus commands us to treat our neighbor as we want her to treat us (Mt 7:12; cf. Lk 10:25-37). Paul also counsels us to do good to everyone, Christian or not (Gal 6:10). So we lovingly speak what we hold to be true and graciously listen as our Muslim brother or sister does likewise. And we remain ready, as Peter charges us, to offer a defense to anyone who seeks the reason for our hope, doing so with gentleness and reverence (1 Pet 3:15-16). So our truth telling is to be marked always by kindness and honor for our partner in dialogue—as a Thou, not an It, in Martin Buber’s terms.”

Anderson proceeds along the following lines to do this. Part One of his book looks at the origins of the Qu’ran and the history of Muhammad and his context. It is particularly fascinating to understand the tribal rivalries of the Arabian peninsula in this time and the mix of pagan religion and contexts with Jews and Christians through trade.

Part Two is the longest part and considers what Anderson calls the “Qu’ranic Worldview.” He explores the Qu’ran’s teaching about God, God’s immanence and transcendence, and justice and mercy. He explores Adam’s creation in an extra-terrestrial garden, and his fall, with Satan, and humanity’s reprieve from the judgment of God. He explores the concepts of sin and salvation, the ideas of prophethood, scripture, and revelation, and the devotional, social, and political dimensions of Qu’ranic spirituality. While noting points of similarity, he also contrasts the aloofness of God, the absence of grace, and the differing ways the two faiths engage the political realm, among a host of other differences.

Part Three focuses on Jesus in the Qu’ran: his origins and person, his words and works, his death, and the community he established. He shows how Jesus is both exalted and marginalized such that the supremacy of Muhammad as prophet is maintained. In particular, it highlights bizarre instances of miraculous works by the child Jesus, while showing him deferring to the disciples as an adult. He also explores the conflicting claims he finds in the Qu’ran about the death of Jesus.

Part Four then summarizes the discussion and explores the relation of Bible and Qu’ran, including the claim that the differences between the two may be accounted for by intentional distortions and falsifications by both Jews and Christians (even though these two were opposed to one another for most of the relevant history). He notes three critical biblical themes running through both testaments and contrasts these with the Qu’ran:

  • Friendship with God
  • The free grace of God
  • The humility of God

One place where I could see this work facing criticism is the approach, which Anderson, drawing on N. T. Wright, calls critical realism, approaching the text in its historic context and prevailing worldview. He does not ignore Muslim interpretive traditions, particularly where they differ from his reading of the text, but does significantly background these, while admitting evangelical and reformed presuppositions in reading the Christian scriptures. I suspect this may work fine where lay evangelicals are in dialogue with lay Muslims where the focus is comparative study of texts and discussion, but would be much more nuanced between scholars of both faiths, whose understandings are shaped by a millenia or more of interpretive tradition as well as study of the text in its context.

However, I would commend this as a helpful resource for interfaith discussions in universities and community contexts. It models both grace and forthrightness of approach without a combative spirit. While trying to meet the Qu’ran on its own terms, it doesn’t pretend to be less than what it is, “a Christian exploration.” Also, it demonstrates another truth often discovered through interfaith conversations: that participants may come to a deeper grasp of the contours of their own faith, as well as that of the other, through these encounters.

Might we avert the much touted clash of civilizations? That remains to be seen. Certainly, there will be violence in the name of religion. What Anderson’s book gives us is a picture of the real work and perhaps the harder struggle that must take place if adherents of Christianity and Islam are truly to understand each other’s sacred scriptures and beliefs, to find ways to co-exist, rather than to fight and seek to dominate each other.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — City Parks

Ipes Field Ruins 5

“Ipes Field Ruins 5” courtesy Mark Hackett. Used with permission.

I used to basically live at Borts Field during my early teen years, and I was there nearly all year round. Once I and my buddies had gotten too big for the playground at the old Washington School, we’d go up to Borts and play pick up games of baseball in the spring and summer. Occasionally, if there was no room at Borts, we’d go over to Kochis Park which was nearby at Florence and North Lakeview.  When it was hot we’d spend afternoons, and sometimes mornings at the free swims at Borts Pool. In the evenings, we’d hang out watching baseball games and run over to Zitello’s for a pop between innings.

Later on, I played in a fast-pitch softball league of churches in the Youngstown area. We played at a number of the city parks including Ipes Field, Pemberton, and I believe Gibson and Homestead Parks, as well as many games at Rocky Ridge.

One summer, I met some girls from school, one who I was pretty interested in, who played tennis on the Borts Field tennis courts (one concrete and one clay). So I took up tennis, an interest which lasted longer than our interest in each other. Speaking of girls, Borts Field, on the hill overlooking the pool, was the site of my first kiss (a different girl, not the tennis player). That relationship didn’t last long either.

When the weather turned cool it was time for touch football, when the field was marked for football. That was probably the hardest time on my clothes–I’d often come home muddy. Then we moved on to basketball. I was never very good at this–not a good dribbler for one thing. Mostly, I’d pass the ball to someone who was a good shot.

Winter found me on the tennis courts again. The parks cover them with water so they would freeze over and we could ice skate. That’s where, after many falls, I learned to ice skate.

There were parks all over the city of Youngstown, in addition to Mill Creek Park. Crandall and Wick Parks on the North Side are perhaps the most scenic. Pemberton on the South side was a great place as well, with a tree-surrounded pool as I remember. My wife grew up across the street from Ipes Field, which also had a baseball field and stands (now crumbling as grown over as the above picture attests). In later years they installed tennis courts and my wife and I would play sometimes when we came back to visit her mother.

We both remember summer programs for kids at the parks. There were crafts, games, and even plays they would put on at the end of the program for the parents. I never actually participated but heard about it from other kids.

Much has changed over the years. Some places are crumbling. Mark Hackett, who allowed me to use the picture of Ipes Field, has albums of photos at the “Cool Stuff Long-Gone Near Youngstown, Ohio” Facebook page, including similar photos at Oakland, Stambaugh, Tod, and Gibson Fields. I suspect many of these had been built as WPA projects during the Depression. At the same time, the city continues to maintain a number of facilities throughout the city, according to this list on their website.

I would love to hear about the city parks you grew up playing at and your favorite memories.  If you are like me, you probably have lots of them!

Blue Jacket Books Moving in a Different Direction

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Lawrence Hammar, co-owner of Blue Jacket Books, in one of the many rooms of books in his store.

I saw a post the other day that reflects the challenges of bookselling, particularly if you are based in a small town.

“There are big changes afoot at and in and with Blue Jacket Books about which I wish to inform you. How’s that for a bracing opening?

I’m excited about the future, I am, don’t think that I’m not, but I am forced to go in a different direction so as to make a living.

Here’s why: I love selling retail, I love being your hometown, independent bookseller, but in terms of in-store sales (not on-line, that is), the bookstore operates at a net loss. Very few Xenians buy books here. Sales in-store have for a long time been flat, slow, maybe even declining. The terrible truth is that, the better has the bookstore become, the better the books, the larger the number thereof, the better the organization, etc., the worse have become the in-store sales. Compliments are up, our reputation improves by the day, the oohs and aahs become more vocal, we get Facebook “likes” by the cart-load, but yet very few people actually buy the danged books, especially not from Xenia. Our customers from Xenia are loyal, don’t get me wrong, but they are not many.

We’re doing okay on-line, we’re doing okay with direct orders, too, but I can’t keep working 80 hours a week so as to lose money in-store. We love the building, we love being in Xenia, we get along great with our building occupants and fellow small-business people, but again, few of our customers are from Xenia. $81 Saturdays and $123 First Fridays and the occasional $0 days have left permanent dents in my psyche. I don’t expect the political-economy or the socio-demography of Xenia to change, so I must try something else.

I’ve therefore decided to move in a different direction.”

I had a delightful visit a couple years ago to Blue Jacket Books in Xenia, which is about a 45 minute or so drive from Columbus. I wrote about it here. We had a delightful time with the owner, came away with an armload of books, and intentions of coming back some time. I have to admit wondering how such a wonderful place could make it in a small town.

I have another friend I’ve met online who also puts in long weeks, sells books at conferences, promotes the store online, and barely scrapes by. He knows books and, at the drop of a hat, can probably make ten good recommendations on any subject, after getting to know you. I much prefer that kind of attention to an algorithm, but perhaps I’m in a minority. That big online bookseller makes getting books quick and easy for those who still read. And like the store in Xenia, direct and online sales rather than in-store sales enable him to stay afloat.

So I can see how the move online makes sense for the folks at Blue Jacket. They can probably do better business in fewer hours (an many people who run stores like this are at the stage of life where they want to go slower). The store definitely appeals to a literate crowd. If Xenia, a town of just over 25,000 and the county seat of Greene Country, were a college town, it might sustain a store like this. Nevertheless, I can see how the loss of the store decreases the mix of stores and the richness of its cultural life. I don’t know the answer to this, aside from a broad cultural change in reading habits and habits of mind.

For now, the store is “purging” their inventory, at least through the end of July according to their Facebook page. In a Dayton Daily News story, it sounds like they are trying to sell off 30,000 of the 50,000 books in their inventory to focus on selling Civil War, Americana, academic works and fine art via direct and online sales. Blue Jacket Books is located at 30 S. Detroit Street, Xenia, OH 45385 and their phone is 937-376-3522, if you want to pick up a great bargain during their “purge.” I assume their website will remain the access point for their online business. But the loss of this good place with its various rooms of books on different topics is one more marker on the road to what I think a less intellectually rich and interesting society. But thanks, Lawrence Hammar and Cassandra Lee for making it such a good place for the past ten years. I wish you well as you take Blue Jacket in a different direction!

LibraryThing’s New Android App

LibraryThing Android App home screenAs an Android phone user and a member of Library Thing for the last year and a half, I’ve lamented the lack of an Android app. Why should the iPhone users have all the fun. Well, I no longer need to lament. The middle of last month, LibraryThing announced that its Android app was finally available. They even accompanied it with a fun video, showing how easy it is to catalog your whole library using the bar code scanner on the app.

Let’s begin with that function, since it is probably one of the most useful aspects of the app. From the Home screen, you hit the button labeled “Add to catalog.” That will take you to a screen that allows you either key in a title or ISBN number, or much more easily scan the bar code for the book. To do this, tap the bar code symbol with a red horizontal line through it. You will see a frame appear using your phone’s camera. Hold it over the bar code on your book, wait for the beep (a bit startling the first time you hear it), and then it will pull up a small image, title, and author of the book you are scanning. It’s worked accurately every time I’ve used it, has always retrieved the correct title, and in my experience, does so more quickly than the scanner on the GoodReads app. One complaint I’ve heard is that you cannot use the bar code scanner to search for books already in your library.

Probably the other most significant button on your app is the “Your Catalog” button. Tapping it will display all your books either in a list or tiled covers. Tapping on the book will take you to a page on that book, allow you to edit what “collections” it appears in, see publication information, member tags and go to links on LibraryThing or Amazon for the book. At the bottom, you are able to delete the entry from your library, or edit your own information, including your tags, ratings, review, and other comments on the book. I would say this is much easier to do on a computer (and often I cut and paste reviews from a blog, which is easier to do on a computer).

You can also search your collections by title, author, ISBN, or even tags. This is quite convenient if you want to see how many books you’ve read, or own, of a particular author, or find books on a particular topic. This comes up often when I’m asked for a book recommendation and the ability to do a quick search comes in handy.

The “Cover Explorer” button is one I’m not quite sure of why it is included. It’s basic function is to tell you the source of the cover image–Amazon (ISBN or ASIN), and low or high member-uploaded cover images. The only reason I can see for this is that the book data from Amazon including ISBN is probably more certain to match their image.

The “Account” button allows you to sign in or out and an “add to catalog resources” section (where LibraryThing looks to find a book you are adding to your library). The defaults are Amazon and the libraries connected to LibraryThing’s database. This accounts for the amazing ability LibraryThing seems to have to find books (and other media).

Finally, the “News” button takes you to the news articles that appear in the right column on the internet version of LibraryThing–including Early Reviewer posts, and information about other changes on LibraryThing.

As an app, it is simple and uncomplicated and accomplishes speedily one of the basic things many people turn to LibraryThing for–cataloging books. It doesn’t have the newsfeed showing you what friends are reading. It’s not especially “pretty.” It shows you your catalog and helps you organize and add to it. It is fast and accurate.

If you are already on LibraryThing or have considered getting on, another bonus of using the app is that it automatically qualifies you for a lifetime free membership on LibraryThing. It has been the case that membership was free for those with under 200 books cataloged and $10 a year or $25 lifetime otherwise.

The app is available at the Google Play Store, and is free as well. What a great way to use smartphone technology if you have a library you want to catalog, or just want to start a list of the books you’ve read!

 

Review: Buying Time

buying time

Buying Time: Environmental Collapse and the Future of Energy, Kaz Makabe. Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge, 2017.

Summary: A study that looks at the world’s increasing energy demands and the environmental challenges these pose, and makes the argument that nuclear power, even with its risks, needs to be considered in the energy mix.

A number of years ago I led a group in my church in doing an environmental audit of the resources we used in the activities of our daily lives, the source of these resources, and what happened to these after our use. It was an eye-opening exercise for all of us, particularly as we realized how heavily dependent we are upon electricity. As I write, the light, the air conditioning in my home, the computer on which I am writing, the TV in the living room, the washer and dryer laundering our clothes, and the refrigerator preserving our food all run on electricity. That’s typical of most of our homes. Multiply this by our businesses and manufacturers, and the devices from phones to cars that require re-charging and you realize how highly dependent we are upon the reliable supply of electric power.

Kaz Makabe takes this a step further and looks at the integral relationship between energy supply and economic growth, and the rapid emergence of countries like China and India, as well as existing developed countries from the United States to the EU to Japan and South Korea. Clearly the demands for energy are going to grow. Furthermore, the “energy return on investment” (EROI) is crucial, and sources of energy that have low ratios of return can put a check on development, particularly if the overall mix drops below 8, which he proposes is an “energy cliff.”

The additional factor that must be weighed in all of this is environmental impacts. On the one hand, fossil fuels provide a high EROI–a lot of energy for the buck. But the environmental impacts from air quality that impacts the health of people, to CO2 emissions, that potentially impact the the health of the planet are leading many to conclude that a move from fossils fuels is necessary because of how much these contribute to human-generated CO2.

Yet there is a problem and that is that the other more “sustainable” sources such as wind and solar at their present stage of development cannot fill the gap, and certainly not with the economy of fossil fuel. This could lead to limited growth or even collapses as the effects of an energy shortage cascade through an economy.

Enter nuclear. Makabe, who lives in Tokyo in the shadow of Fukushima, argues that for all its problems, nuclear, and particular Generation IV nuclear technologies, need to be included in the mix of options we consider in a world of growing populations, developing economies, and potential or actual environmental perils. He does this with open eyes, surveying the history of nuclear power, and the accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. He notes the problems of regulatory structures, dated technologies, and inadequate safety protocols that led to each of these disasters.

He also explores newer technologies, some of which use the most hazardous products of our existing nuclear waste, and generate far less and safer wastes, are capable of modular construction at lower costs, and have design features for greater safety. He also chronicles how regulatory constraints, and the interests of those committed to older technologies from obsolete plants to manufacturers have slowed the implementation of Generation IV designs. Furthermore, taking plants offline following Fukushima, and slowing implementation in other countries has led to increased carbon emissions as fossil fuel plants have largely filled the gap.

In the chapter preceding his conclusion, Makabe argues that never has the need for innovation been so great, given the challenges the human species faces. He notes with concern the slowdowns in many fields such as antibiotics. He touches on a concern I’ve come across with increasing frequency, the displacement of humans by intelligent machines from jobs that could accelerate in the coming years. As we face all these challenges, he concludes that it is imperative in the field of energy that we “buy the time” our civilization needs for facing these changes with not only development of renewable forms of sustainable energy, but new nuclear technologies that provide the energy that allows us to stave off economic collapse or conflict for ever more scarce energy.

What I appreciate about this book is its calm realism. I’ve always scratched my head as I look at the question of implementing renewable energy and the challenge of providing enough energy to replace fossil fuel. Yet it seems many who argue for renewables want to take both fossil and nuclear power options off the table. Currently in my state (Ohio) 97 percent of our power comes from fossil fuels (83 percent) or nuclear power (14 percent). I do think that much can be done to incentivize renewable implementation and to encourage economies in usage. It does seem an error to subsidize fossil fuels, if we need to move from this source (kind of like subsidizing tobacco producers). But it does seem that if we were to try to even halve our use of fossil fuels, it would take us a very long time to get there at even our current energy usage if nuclear energy could not be considered.

What the book doesn’t address as much as I would have liked are what needs to happen to change both the regulatory environment and safety protocols to convince an apprehensive public to allow nuclear into their back yard. If new technologies cannot get built and licensed, and if implementation of safety protocols are not enhanced and monitored by those with an “arms length” relationship to the industry, it’s not going to happen, or it will happen shoddily if we get desperate enough. Reform of the industry and its regulation needs to accompany the economic and technological case Makabe makes.

What Makabe has given us are good reasons for doing that hard work, even as we take a hard nosed look at the challenges and risks in our energy future.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.